CENSUS 2011 and the issue of race

This has nothing to do with writing. I just feel like talking about it.

I, like many others living here, have been completing the Census form, and look forward to a stage when I can complete it without identifying myself in terms of race. Why does ‘nationality’ not suffice for the purpose of statistics. It is a more accurate description.

In South Africa under Apartheid your every breathing moment was defined by which race classification you were fitted into. Were you white enough to be classified white, or dark enough to be classified black? If not, you fell into the general category of ‘coloured’ or ‘other coloured’ or Indian (the only classification linked to country of origin)  The notions of black and white are, in my view, meaningless. The notions  of nationality are not.

The census form includes place of birth and nationality – why then do they need to know the following:

What is your ethnic or cultural background?

A. White – Irish/ Irish Traveller/ Any other White background

B. Black or Black Irish – African/Any other Black background

C. Asian or Asian Irish – Chinese/Any other Asian background

D. Other, including mixed background – Other, write in description.

Who dreamt these up? What is a Black (Capital B) background? What is a White (Capital W) background? Without wanting to obstruct the Central Statistics office in its work, we have not (as I felt like doing) thrown the form away, but have completed that section by identifying  ourselves by the non-definition of ‘other’ – the explanation being mixed. It is not a satisfactory solution, but will do for the meantime. A mixed bag we are.

As an aside, in South Africa the Afrikaner group  has always identified itself as ‘pure white’ and this, in terms of their own definition, is just pure wrong. Recent studies into the genetic composition of Afrikaners have shown that between 5 – 7% of their genetic make up consists of genes that have come directly from Khoisan, Malay, Indian and West African peoples. If then an Afrikaner was sitting down to fill in the census form in Ireland today he would, if he was being honest, tick the category ‘Other – Mixed.’

By Luke Chueh www.lukechueh.com

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6 responses to “CENSUS 2011 and the issue of race

  1. I went for the other option too for much the same reasons and because I am not just Irish, so I put “mixed white”, if only because I am so pasty and burn easily in the sun! 😉

  2. Mixed white sounds like a paint colour! Perhaps that’s what we can recommend to the Statistics Office if they are looking for categories – a paint palette, the options are endless: Toasted Almond, Sunset Yellow, Medieval Green (?) or Delicate Dawn?

  3. Interesting thoughts especially about race in South Africa. Even in Zambia we have people with features that don’t fit into the White/Black mold but they aresimply Zambians.

  4. I’d have been a Delicate Dawn, I think, but because I was out of the country last Sunday, they don’t want to know a whole lot about me I’m afraid. One little column, compared to the sheets and sheets of data on Rob. I was looking forward to making myself known!

  5. Very remiss Elaina! There they are, the Central Statistics office staff, waiting in breathless anticipation for your answers, and what do you do? Nonchalantly, with no thought of whether the numbers of Delicate Dawns would be severely down in this particular census, you traipse off to the London Book Fair.

  6. Please see our website for more information about the current race classification debate: http://www.parcsa.co.za. People Against Race Classification.

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